Not long ago, a couple asked to spend some time with Charissa and me. They were both divorced (due to the infidelity of their former partners), had met at church, and planned to marry soon. They had heard we had walked their path and had successfully blended a household with four teens (two hers and two mine).
All of our children were fifteen and older, so our job had been infinitely easier than most. Nevertheless, we did learn some great lessons. To prepare for our meeting with this very wise, mature, conscientious couple, Charissa and I tried to condense our hard-knock lessons down to something manageable. Here are the principles, rules, and tips we decided a blending family should consider.
Most of these principles, rules, and tips apply to parenting in general, but become especially important when becoming parents of a blended family.
Rules without a relationship always lead to rebellion.
You cannot become an authority until you have been an advocate.
Children need to feel some measure of control over their own lives; when they feel powerless, they rebel.
All children were created equal, but they were not created the same.
You can parent by controlling your children, or by earning their trust, never both.
You can be the very best mom or dad in the world, but you will never overcome biology.
Children always abuse the parent they trust most.
Sibling rivalry comes from a perception that there isn’t enough parental love to go around.
Children feel most secure when the marriage is strong.
Never disagree in front of the children. Remain silent, address the issue later, and make adjustments together.
Never discipline your spouse’s child; gently report problem behavior to your spouse, and focus on behavior, not perceived motives.
Never speak negatively of your spouse’s children, particularly in reference to their temperament, character, abilities, or prior upbringing.
Diligently guide each of your own children in the way each should go, and trust your spouse to do the same.
Discipline your own, but bless all of the children individually and equally.
Give priority to your mate as the best means of caring for your children.
Turn power-plays into opportunities to teach responsibility (decisions = consequences.)
Establish a procedure for resolving conflicts between step-siblings, explain the procedure to the children (as a couple), and follow it to the letter.
Make having fun together a priority by planning lots of opportunities; think creatively and seek variety. Encourage participation by inviting each child to join the fun. Entice; do not compel.
Whenever possible, give each child opportunities to make choices, especially those affecting the household.
Plan family meals in advance, giving each child his or her choice of meal on a given night.
Plan a family vacation within six months of the wedding, and make anticipation a stress reliever for the family.
During the first six months (at least), plan on the family consuming every spare moment. Suspend hobbies and activities, and postpone every outside commitment that isn’t absolutely necessary. Devote this time to your marriage and to getting your new family settled into place. Things will get better in time–and sooner than you think!–but only if you start well.
Blending lives will necessarily create turbulence. This is to be expected. But if you remain calm, take the turbulence in stride, and apply your principles and rules consistently, life will again become manageable. In fact, I think you’ll discover as we did, that having these guiding principles, rules, and tips in place will solve a lot of problems before they arise. Charissa and I found the blending of our households to be a joyful experience, providing memories all six of us continue to cherish.